The toughest thing about this financial meltdown, for me, is that it is beyond my control. I was just emerging from the mental morass of having a baby, moving cross country, and my husband starting a new job. I’ve been looking forward to setting up a new home and making some real progress. But the facts and images are unambiguous: people are losing everything and it’s become a game not of schadenfreude, but of, “I’m lucky, I could be that person.”
One of the potential silver linings in this crisis is that many of us will learn, myself included (myself especially), how we have been blatantly wasting money. Cable TV, a latte a day, and unnecessary appliances are just some of the things that can be cut out. Although we might not have control over our income right now, we do have control over our expenses. In the case of winter proofing your home, you can take care of three important and timely issues at once: saving money, saving energy, and maintaining (even increasing) the value of your home.
Turn Off Instead of Opening Up
Most of us know to use window treatments to insulate (close the curtains when the sun goes down to keep the heat in). However, in cold areas, especially where many people rent, we may need to be reminded that when it gets too hot, turn the radiator off instead of opening a window. If the radiator doesn’t have a knob, get the superintendent to replace it, pronto. This is a huge waste of energy and money, regardless of who’s paying for it. It may sounds obvious, but next time you’re walking down the street in any big city on a cold day, notice the open windows.
If you set your own thermostat, keep it at around 68 degrees or lower and use the time-honored tradition of bundling up to keep warm and save money.
Weather Strip It
If you don’t have storm windows, which reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent during the winter, use weather stripping or caulk on your windows to seal them up. (Weather strip usually costs between $20 and $30; caulk is less than $5 per tube.) Consumer Reports advises that weather stripping can reduce heating costs by almost 30 percent during the winter for those who live in cold areas. And if you’re like me and suffer through the cold months with lots of clothes and little heat, sealing up the windows could actually make the winters at home more enjoyable.
Down with the Drafts
A draft sealers kit, which you can buy online or from a hardware store for less than $10, allows you to plug electrical outlets on external walls with the foam inserts and seal up these small but inefficient areas. Similarly, find and seal any cracks around walls, ceilings, floors, windows, plumbing, and other electrical fixtures where heat might escape. Another place to check for heat loss is window-mounted air conditioners, which you can cover with plastic or, better yet, remove them completely.
When the fireplace isn’t in use, make sure fireplace dampers are closed. Since warm air from the house can escape through an open, unused fireplace, you might also want to put a wood or metal screen in front to block the opening.
Do the Insulate Rebate
Insulating your hot water heater can save you money because it takes less energy to heat the water. A water tank insulation wrap costs about $20 and will pay for itself within a couple of months.
If you’re looking for extra insulation throughout the house and are thinking of doing some remodeling (probably not the case if you’re looking to save money) carpets are good insulators. An easier, cheaper insulating option is a throw rug, which can be removed in summer.
Play It Winter Safe
With the lack of airflow and high use of heating systems in winter, carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real danger. Check your carbon monoxide detector batteries, as well as filters on humidifiers, heaters, and air purifiers, which can leak CO if not running properly.
Due to restricted airflow, it’s also a good time to test for lead, radon, and mold. Many counties will do these inspections for free or for reduced cost.
What’s Going on Outside?
Although we many not want to leave the house until spring, cleaning up and securing the outside of our homes will ensure that the cold weather doesn’t damage our abode. Some steps to secure the out so you stay safe in:
- Keep an eye on your roof and gutters, making sure that ice and debris have not accumulated. Trim branches near power lines in case of ice accumulation.
- In areas that get lots of snow, clear a pocket near the mouth of your driveway for plows to push the snow from the road, so you don’t get stranded. The Minnesota Department of Transportation  has an easy-to-follow diagram.
- Try to keep your driveway clear before it ices over. If you can’t, then use rock salt to break up the ice in small areas and sand or kitty litter for larger areas. The sand and kitty litter may be messy, but they’re safer, since urea-based fertilizers will burn vegetation.
- To prevent pipes from freezing, locate your water main in case you have to turn it off. If you leave on vacation, set your thermostat to 55 degrees.
Check It Out, for Free
Call your electrical company and ask for a free energy analysis/audit. It’s a relatively quick walk-through and it’s the least they can do, really, considering what you pay them every month. I did this with Con Ed and I was surprised to learn that compact fluorescents can make a noticeable difference in my bill every month. The inspectors will help to identify issues you wouldn’t think of on your own and give you a helpful checklist of issues to monitor.
By applying some common sense thriftiness to our homes, not only can we save money on our heating bill and waste less energy in the process, we’ll feel better by taking a step to control our expenditures. And there’s nothing like some extra cash in the pocket to make you feel really good.